My Menne Favorite Things….

I am not Oprah and certainly don’t claim to be but I like the idea of sharing a list of my favorite things. As a busy Mom I know how important some ‘things’ are and how much they can save time, money and well, my sanity sometimes.

My ‘Menne’ Favorite Things (in no particular order)

  • Magic Erasers Let’s face it..with kids in the house you are going to get a few Picaso’s on your walls every now and then. These things are amazing! I keep a box on hand at all times.
  • Good ol’ fashion Bleach. I have 6 boys so bleaching is a necessity. If you ask any of my children they will tell you “Mommy loves to wash my clothes.” Although I do love being their Mommy and enjoy a clean house that doesn’t mean I enjoy cleaning it and washing clothes all day. I guess they may be looking for a good excuse as to why they decided to use their sleeves as a napkin. I get the generic bleach at the dollar store of target.
  • Any leap product is awesome in my book. The leap videos like The Word Factory and Math Circus are great for learning and entertainment. I am not going to lie, my kids watch TV. If they are going to watch I feel much less guilty if it’s educational and these programs are just right.
  • Carpet Spray is another must have for my home. Kids spill, accidents happen but knowing that I can spray the stain and make it all go away is fantastic! I can carpet spray at the dollar store and that works just as well as the more costly brand name carpet spray.
  • Speaking of accidents…sickness is inevitable. When the bug is going around you never know when or where someone might vomit or well…something might sneak out the other end. 🙂 For all of those incidents I love lysol disinfectant spray. It smells wonderful and provides peace of mind that the germs are being killed.
  • The Perfect Sweeper is a must have right next to my Simplicity vacuum. Our house isn’t a massive soap opera estate but I vacuum it so frequently and got sick of going through so many cheap vacuums we finally went a step up and got the Simplicity and I don’t regret it one bit. To cut down on how often I use the vacuum my hubby bought us a perfect sweeper which is great for the kitchen to get the crumbs and cheerios which find themselves on my floors daily. The perfect sweeper is light and rechargeable and my favorite part….drum roll….You DON’T have to bend over to use a dustpan!! Woo hoo :O
  • Vinegar: This stuff is so under appreciated. It has many uses! Mix vinegar with water for cleaning off the counter, add to the wash for fabric softener, and of course cooking. I buy it at Aldi or in bulk at Sam’s.
  • The Boppy is a must have. It’s great for nursing, tummy time, learning to sit up and of course as a photography prop. The boppy now comes with removable covers to help with cleaning. It’s a great shower gift and worthwhile item to buy for oneself. 🙂
  • The Arm’s Reach Co-sleeper is genius. It’s a crib that attaches to our bed! I can sleep, baby can sleep and when it’s time to nurse I don’t even have to get out of my warm bed. Win-win! AND, it converts to a regular pack-n-play when the baby grows. The Arm’s Reach Co-Sleeper is seriously amazing. They sell a mini co-sleeper as well so if you don’t have as much bedroom space you still have options. (full disclosure I bought mine on craigslist because well, I am cheap..i mean thrifty)
  • Born free products are very loved in our house. The babies love the Born Free pacifiers and bottles. I like that they are free of all of those not baby friendly chemicals and the bottle and sippy parts can work together. It makes for an easy transition and helps when washing dishes. They also have teething toys my babies have loved during that phase. I find their products online as well as in Babies-R-Us stores.
  • Huggies lil’ snugglers. Yea, I’ll admit it… I used to swear by pampers but feel as if that mesh fabric on the inside tends to stick to the baby’s bottoms in some weird way. The lil’ snugglers Huggies makes doesn’t do that and still keeps my babies dry. I have made the full conversion from Pampers to Huggies. I also found the Huggies to be a bit cheaper (at Sam’s Club) than Pampers. I also use the Huggies rewards program and love being able to ‘buy’ things with those points since I am buying diapers and wipes anyway. (I have tried to use generic diapers but have ended up with leaking issues and diaper rash problems)
  • My favorite lotion isn’t some scented spendy brand, it’s Goldbond Cream. It’s not greasy, it helps babies skin retain moisture and lasts long enough to keep their skin soft in between baths. (I also like Goldbond Cream for myself)
  • BOB jogging strollers are the best strollers ever. Seriously! No joke! They are also very expensive but so worth every penny. After 5 kids I had finally learned to spend the money to get the best stroller rather than trying to save money and get something that isnt’ exactly what I want or need. The BOB has single and dual options as well as breaks, no breaks, swivel or stationary front tires, etc. Endless options really. I have a BOB duallie and love that I can collapse it down to fit in the back of the van and still feel the kids are safe when it’s opened up. (I don’t have to remove tires, etc.) I can pop it up and clip it together quickly. I use it for running, walking, shopping…It’s more than just a jogging stroller. The tires are inflatable so they go well over various terrain, it has optional cup/snack holders, enough storage for me AND my storage includes a zipper so my phone or keys don’t fall out when running. The canopy is great on the duallie because each child has their own and it can go all the way down to accommodate the fussiest of kiddos. It has great shock absorption so I feel comfortable pushing my little ones when I clip the infant carrier into it. (Also worth mentioning, there are many options for clipping in infant carriers to accommodate all the brands). Living in Minnesota I also opted to purchase a shade/mosquito cover that keeps the babies away from the elements. We purchased ours from REI using our membership discount you can also find them at places like Target and used ones are on craigslist.
  • Bebe au lait: It’s the original hooter hider and I love it. I have 4 or 5 of them and use them regularly. I have one in the stroller, one in the diaper bag and a few around the house. They are so wonderful to be able to cover when needed but I can see baby and baby can see me.
  • Ergo Baby Carriers: I have tried a few different brands and styles throughout my years of babies and have found my Ergo to be the best for babies. I have a larger backpack style for hiking with toddlers but this one is amazing for babies. It’s so comfortable! I love the infant insert for newborns. I use it all the time when they are tiny to get things done around the house and they sleep so nicely in it. As they get bigger they transition well to using the carrier without the insert and then can ride on my back as well. I also got mine at REI with a discount coupon but they are also at Target and vary in price and style.
  • Nissan NV Passenger : When are family was too large to fit in our suburban and we didn’t really wanna drive two suburban’s everywhere we started researching a larger vehicle. We weren’t excited about the standard 16 passenger van so we looked into the Ford and Nissan vans. After reading too many reviews to count and watching many video reviews we test drove both the Nissan and Ford and although there is a large discrepancy in the cost we feel in love with the Nissan. It fits up to 12 people, the seats can move around (and I can even lift them), it comes with a backup camera, it drives like a truck, it has USB outlets and lots of storage. We opted for the 3500 for the larger engine for towing purposes. I love it. Oh, and I forgot to mention-the window on the opposite side of the sliding door opens! It’s great to have that option.

What are your favorite things? There is no such thing as too Menne or too many 😉 so PLEASE SHARE!

 

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The Writings on the Wall

scripture on mirrorBackground: A few years ago my husband and I committed to re-aligning our family to be more spiritually centered. One day we woke up realizing our family priories were out of whack. We were eating on the run (not at the dinner table as a family), we were shuffling back and forth from home to hockey rink (not bible study), we were driving to church separately because one of us had to leave early to get someone to practice (not enjoying fellowship with church friends). We committed to focusing our eyes on the Lord and teaching our children by doing what we would want of and for them. (By the way, not having the kids in Hockey was harder on us than it was on the kids. We missed seeing them on the ice but they loved having their ‘time’ back to play and just be kids).

We have really focused on reading the bible with our kids and to our little ones, daily devotionals for all the kids (even the little ones), talking about what they learn in Sunday school & youth group, participating in church events and following up with family activities from sunday school. We are far more selective on how we spend our time now and guard our family time as it is very precious to us.

The Writings On The Wall

About 5 months ago I listened to a sermon on Deutronomy. Afterwards this particular piece of scripture was weighing heavily on my heart.

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.[b] You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

I really felt called to diligently teach my children the commandments of the Lord. I couldn’t kick the feeling of not screwing this up. How in the world can I follow through with what this scripture is calling us to do?? So I prayed on it and eventually found some clarity. My husband had placed decorative scripture on our walls to help remind us of who we live our lives for and why we do what we do but I still felt called to do more. The kids were given scripture verses to memorize each week and would bring them home printed out on paper to hang up at home why not write them on the walls? So I did. Ok so I didn’t write all over all walls. I used something that we all look at multiple times a day…the mirror!

Each week when the kids received a new scripture for memorization I would write it on the mirror in their bathroom & the mudroom bathroom. I also would select other scripture for a mirror in our entryway and the one in our master bath. These were to help my husband and I as well. It has gone well and the kids have responded well to it. I like that it gives me more time on my devotionals and those that I do with the little ones as well. It’s also nice to provide prompts for discussions on some of them as a family when the kids have questions.

It’s not too much work on my part and it has been pretty successful at the Menne home. You can even find inexpensive dry erase markers at the dollar store. 🙂

If you have any ideas from your families please share! I am certainly not an expert and appreciate other ideas.

 

Crunching the Number$: Our Family Budget

As a large family (and one with a finance guy) a budget it critical. I giggled a bit as I typed that because as with most couples there is a spender and a saver. With us, it happens to be the finance guy who is the spender. Ironic right? Don’t get me wrong there are things on my wish list and I like to buy things too I just hold back more often than he does. We all have our vices. If I’m driving somewhere I have no problem not stopping at gas stations for snacks, etc. even when I’m hungry whereas he will stop for drinks, etc. I on the other hand spend money on stuff for the kids. They are fun to shop for!

The only way to mitigate a financial disaster is being on the same page and both USING the budget. Both of those are equally important. Why? Even if you are both on the same page and agree you need to do something different with your money/spending/earning you both have to actually have a plan and follow it. Also, if you aren’t both actually in agreement on what to do or how to do it you’ll have problems and we all know money problems can wreak havoc on a relationship.

Step 1: Talk, talk and talk some more. What are you both willing to do? Are you willing to give up credit cards? Are you ready to actually look at your finances? Ready to look at and accept the amount of debt you have? Are you willing to move to a cash budget? Are you willing to take the time to create a budget and adjust it each month? Are you willing to USE a budget? Are you willing to discuss spending regularly? These are are all very important pieces and can’t be done quickly. Communication is key. For us we talked about needing to do something for months before we were able to actually make a move and DO something different.

Step 2: Create a budget. After a few years we now have a process that works for us. We have a budget in a spreadsheet format that we discuss each month. (We use something similar to the Dave Ramsey philosophy) We take a look at the calendar to plan for expenses such as birthdays, parties, holidays, special meals, trips, car maintenance, etc. At this time I also put together the shopping list for the month so we have a good idea of how much we need for groceries, etc. This takes time but is a big help for us to know what we need to adjust for that month. We have learned the hard way that if we don’t adjust the budget as needed we won’t follow it. It needs to be reasonable. We start by figuring out the bills that need to be paid such as car payments, house payments, utilities, etc. After that we go through needs/wants. Our categories are not what others may use but they work for us. Grocery (food), Target (Toiletries, cleaning supplies, clothes, etc.) Gas (fuel for auto and lawn care), Eating Out (restaurants, snacks, coffee), Car Repair/Maintenance (oil changes, filters, etc),  Misc. (Birthdays, etc.) These are all categories that have an envelope with cash in them. It’s much more painful to hand over cold hard cash than zip a debit card through a machine. I also feel I pay more attention to the amount I spend when I use cash vs. card.

Step 3: USE IT! The first few months you may be excited about the change or maybe are still needing encouragement….regardless, you need to keep at it. It takes time to get used to it and sometimes you’ll slip up. We are all human and prone to make mistakes. The budget honeymoon phase may wear off and you accidentally use your debit card. It’s okay. It’s just a matter of getting back to it. As I said before, it takes constant communication. Talk with one another about what is challenging and discuss how to mitigate it. For example my husband really struggled with spending money on lunches during the workday. We talked about it and decided bringing lunch would help. He tried brining soups, etc but he still bought afternoon snacks. We talked again and then I started packing lunches for him including snacks and he stopped spending money on eating out and vending machine snacks. Little things like that can make a big difference.

It’s more work to stay within the bounds of the budget but feels good to pay off debt. Slowly, but surely the debt does get paid off and that my friends feels great!

I think my favorite part of our budget and planning is that we are teaching our children financial literacy. We are transparent with our children about how much things cost whether it’s college tuition, clothes, food or trips. It’s not that we want them to ever feel guilty but rather we want them to realize money doesn’t grow on trees it must be earned and that we need to be prudent with how we utilize it. We talk with them about spending, saving and donating money.

Happy budgeting 🙂

 

 

 

Reflections of life…

Being a Mom of many when I go places I do head count, after head count, after head count. Trying to keep my ducks in a row isn’t always easy but I love it. So when we get in the truck to go anywhere I typically do a roll call but it’s really turned into more of a fun thing for the kids. You see our 4 year old can’t just say ‘Here!’ or ‘What?’ like the others. When his names is called instead he has to let us know that his little brother is here, “Peter is here!!” Reflections

One lovely day while we were heading out to grocery shop I did my normal count and roll and briefly looked in the mirror one more time. As I glanced back I saw their beautiful smiling faces. For a moment, all happy and smiling. I immediately thanked God for each of those blessings he has entrusted me with.

I couldn’t get over the reflection in the mirror. It seemed like yesterday I was glancing in the mirror to check my lipstick or make sure my hair was ok. Just one face, me. When I glance in the mirror now I still see part of me but I see so much more. Seeing part of my face yet all of their faces. It’s still me, just a different me. I see me in each of my children and I see me with them.

I feel so blessed even if they aren’t always happy and smiling. I like reflection I now see. It’s bigger than just me.

Yet Another John Deere Birthday

 

It was no surprise to me when my tractor lovin’ little boy told me he wanted his 4th birthday to be a ‘John Deere Birthday’ theme. He and my 6 year old son both had already enjoyed John Deere birthday parties in the past so I already had some John Deere decorations in my stash of supplies. (Frankly, my older boys had done repeated Thomas the Train birthday parties year after year so this was pretty common place in the Menne house…AND saves $ to reuse items!) I got out all of the John Deere party supplies and started planning with the almost 4 year old. He quickly decided he wanted a “big John Deere combine cake!” I wasn’t sure what that was going to look like because the thought of making an actual combine seemed overwhelming. I asked him about a sheet cake with a combine ON it or making one with frosting but he wanted a “real big combine” so to the world wide web I went hunting through images of John Deere cakes until I stumbled on this amazing blog A Quiet Life in a Loud House which had not only the best, most amazing John Deere combine cake but also had awesome DIRECTIONS!!!! I was over the moon excited to give it a try. Her photos were great and explanation was perfect. I have to give her credit for the whole thing! Decorations I used leftover John Deere napkins, party hats, balloons, crepe paper and signs from last year’s party. I got a green table cloth, green and yellow napkins, yellow cups, yellow plates and green plastic silverware all from the dollar store. I also found green and yellow ‘grass’ that is used for Easter baskets but it wasn’t the plastic kind so I grabbed a couple of those bags to fill glass cylinders to add to the color. I had white and yellow flowers left over from a baptism celebration the previous week which also were great to add to the tables. The last thing I did was raid the toy room to use the small John Deere toys the boys have as decorations.

The Cake I found some scrap pieces of 2×4’s in the garage and covered them with aluminum foil. I had to make sure it would fit on my round cake base. Then I baked #2 9×13 cakes. I started creating the combine cake by cutting the appropriate pieces ensuring it would fit on the wood base. I used skewers I had left over from another party to help hold pieces together. I frosted it and then added a cut bendy straw for the auger just as Lora did in her blog. I also used ding-dongs and donettes for tires and big wheels. (The boys liked eating the left-overs). I was wondering what I was going to do for the combine head but was able to find one of the boy’s toy combines had a removable combine head. Sweet! I attached it to a popsicle stick and it totally fit! I was then able to push that popsicle stick under the front of the combine to look attached to the actual cake. Needless to say I was pretty pleased with myself. I think the hardest part of was locating candy corn but my husband was able to find a bag for me. My son so so happy when we filled the hopper with the candy corn. He really thought it completed the cake. I used the rest of the cake pieces to make a square cake which worked great as a ‘tractor in the field’ kinda cake. I decided to make it look like the farmer was planting although I know plants aren’t instantly visible it was necessary for a 4 year old. I used a small toy tractor and frosting for this cake. Nothing too fancy. 😉 I made the lines on the cake with a frosting comb and used a small star tip for the ‘plants.’ Done! We ate the ‘field cake’ at our small family celebration on his actual birthday and ate the ‘big combine cake’ at his birthday party a couple days later. He liked them both and was thrilled with turning 4.

Straw Bale Gardening: Year 2

My first year of straw bale gardening was such a success I didn’t hesitate to embark on another year of straw bale gardening. My handy husband built me a lovely compost bin which was a perfect for all of last years bales. (I am looking forward to having fertile soil to fill pots with.) He used some 2×4’s we already had in the garage and some chicken wire leftover from last summer.

Set up this year was far less work that last year. We bought some new straw bales ($5 per bale) and lined them up where the old bales were. I actually added a few more bales but was still able to use the same area which was great. We added some new mulch between the bales to freshen it up a bit and then put the soaker hose back on and got the timer all ready.

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Oh, and my amazing hubby put the supports on which can be seen in the photo below. (It is something he built last summer to help stabilize the bales because as they decompose they fall apart.)

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I have already started the conditioning process for my 2016 garden. Tip: Be sure your bales are right side up. You should see the ends of the straw rather than the folded pieces. Once you have them all upright you can begin the process which involves sprinkling fertilizer on each bale followed by a good water. This is all explained in great detail in the book, Straw Bale Gardens by Joel Karsten. (He also has the book Straw Bale Gardens Complete available on his website.)

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After applying the fertilizer the bales need a good watering. This also helps to push the fertilizer down into the bales and before you know it they’ll be cookin’. The kids are great helpers and love to lend a hand. The older kids each wear a digital watch which makes it easy for them to keep track of how many minutes they are watering each bale. (You can see my strawberries pushing through the mulch already)

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I am pretty excited to branch out and try some new veggies this time around. My plan is plant more of the items I need for canning in the fall to prevent buying from the store. I am also excited for the kids to learn more about growing onions, garlic, & potatoes. Most of the plants we will be growing can start from seeds planting right away on day 12; however, there are a few that must be started indoors first. I used this as an opportunity to teach my preschooler and toddler about gardening from seeds. My 2 and 4 year olds were great helpers and really enjoyed getting to play in the dirt, (and with the popsicles sticks of course).

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I’m looking forward to planting May 1st and (impatiently) watching for our first plants to sprout up. I’ll keep you posted on progress.

Happy Gardening!

 

 

 

Straw Bale Gardening

With a big family like ours it’s great to find ways to save money and as an educator I also like things that help teach our children valuable life lessons so when our local librarian showed me a book on straw bale gardening I was all-in! She knew our house was built on very rocky land and therefore the soil is difficult for growing anything, including grass! She and I agreed this method would mitigate that problem so I checked out both of the books our library had on the subject, Straw Bale Gardens and Straw Bale Gardens Complete both by Joel Karsten. I read the books and was so glad I did because as with most instructions, you must read the WHOLE THING before starting or you’ll miss steps. It was also helpful to be able to ask questions when I attended a seminar by Joel Karsten at our local library. (I bought my own copy of Straw Bale Gardens too). image Living in a rural area it wasn’t too difficult to find someone selling straw bales for a decent price. I think I paid $5 per bale from a farmer who also insisted we take some farm fresh eggs . (Be sure you get STRAW bales NOT hay bales. There is a big difference!!) Then I had to decide where to put the garden. The book explains ideal locations and with that information I decided to use the area by our garage to get the most sunlight. It is slightly sloped so I had to make sure to put the line of bales the correct direction to avoid the bales tipping over. I also had to get underground lines marked so when we begin digging we don’t accidentally hit anything. I measured and marked off the area placing some rocks around the entire area. Then I laid down chicken wire, covered that with a layer of landscape fabric,  and placed the bales in a line. Finally in between the rows of bales I put down a layer of mulch. This required a great deal of mulch. I ended up using a full load from the back of a pick-up truck rather than bags of mulch. It was far more cost effective (and a great workout to shovel out). My husband placed the poles at each end of the bales and then I put up the wires for the plastic to hang on to create the greenhouse. The wires are also great for the vines to climb up. image It was a bit of work to get the garden set up but wasn’t too cumbersome. I was still pretty excited to start the conditioning process. I followed the instructions found in the book sprinkling fertilizer on each bale and watering them. My husband and I placed a soaker hose across the tops of the bales and got it hooked up with a timer so the watering the garden would be a snap. By day 12 I was ready for planting and was sure of this because when I stuck a thermometer into the bales they were hot!! I had already planned out the garden so I had the seeds, plants and map of what was going to be planted in each bale.

I had lots of little helpers for the planting. They helped plant the strawberry plants and tomato plants which go directly into the bales-no dirt! I put a layer of dirt on the tops of the bales that would be seeded. Then the bigger kids helped plant the seeds on those bales. Finally we placed clear plastic over the rows of bales which created a green house of sorts. We used rope and bungie cords to help keep the plastic from blowing away. As the plants grew we moved the plastic up. The kids loved watching the seeds sprout and the plants grow.

I planted May 1st and the garden was still producing tomatoes through the month of October! I had more than enough tomatoes and cucumbers. It was more than I knew what to do with so I decided to give canning a try.

 

I made spaghetti sauce, pizza sauce, salsa and pickles. It was enough to last the entire winter so it was definitely worth with the work. The kids were excited that we had our own pumpkins too!image.jpg Since embarking on straw bale gardening I have had many people stop by and ask about it. I suppose it looks odd to see such a garden. I have also had many people call, text or contact me via social media to ask questions. I am NOT a green thumb and often struggle to keep house plants so a successful garden was a surprise for me. If you think you want to do this you should. It’s a great way to get fresh produce regardless of the soil conditions you may have AND there is NO WEEDING!!   Happy gardening!!